There was a very interesting article by Bruce Shulman in WaPo recently about the “new” Age of Limits. Maybe we are on the cusp of something as big as the 1980 election (which in my book is still the most significant election of the last four decades).
Of course much has changed since the late 1970s (even if Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen are-thankfully-still with us). Carter’s energy plan’s consisted of strong environmental protection programs: Superfund to clean up toxic waste, ANWR, a ban on offshore drilling, enactment of surface mining control legislation, etc. Fat chance you’ll get that out of BushCo.
Decontrol of oil prices not withstanding, most of the Carter energy program consisted of new federal involvement in energy issues to an unprecendented level. These measures included items that Bush has refused to put on the table like “sterner measures like those implemented in the Carter years, such as a “gas guzzler tax” on low mileage cars or new fuel efficiency standards for buildings, cars and refrigerators.” And that’s just a partial list of new efficency standards of the late 1970s.
Don’t forget the windfall profits tax on oil companies that Carter persuaded Congress to enact and that a certain Democrat recently proposed to reinstate. And who could forget what former GOP strategist Kevin Phillips wrote about Carter in his 1990 Book The Politics of Rich and Poor: “While Carter promoted new competition in financial services and transportation, he alsop intensified regulation of the environment, product and occupational safety, energy, equal employment and ‘foreign corrupt practices.'” Don’t hold your breath waiting for Dubya to go cracking down on the evil policies of “Bandar Bush” and the Saudi Royal family.
A minimum wage increase along the lines of what Carter did? Nope. Federal aid to help the poor pay energy bills? Ha, ha, real funny. Like playoff tickets at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. As Carter said in his much-maligned-“malaise” speech of July 15, 1979: “Our nation must be fair to the poorest among us, so we will increase aid to the needy Americans to cope with rising energy prices.” How about having a Congressional Democrat propose this? It would be a good contrast to Bush’s coddling of Halliburton in a way many Americans can understand.
But I’m not just hear to just highlight the differences between Carter and Bush. Perhaps the energy crises of the 2000s will help to reinvigorate the spirit of national community that died sometime in the last quarter of the 20th century? Democrats showed in the 2004 campaign, from Kerry down to the bottom of the ticket that they are the communityresponsibility party, and could speak the language of responsibility to others, and not just ourselves. A marked contrast to the 1990s where Democrats all but competed with the GOP to see who could be the bigger “screw you I’m out for me” party a.k.a. “the Culture of Greed.”
Whether Americans can accept short term pain for long term gain is anyone’s guess. As Shulman notes, “Calls for discipline and sacrifice filled the airwaves.
But Americans still did not want to accept Carter’s vision of limits. Amid the mayhem and malaise of the ’70s Americans looked elsewhere to solve their problems and define their communities.
“That led to a fundamental political and cultural shift that fueled Ronald Reagan’s victory in 1980. Insisting on abundance, the nation and its leaders rejected calls for conservation or regulation. Instead of accepting limits, Americans blamed government for failing to remove limits. The nation and its leaders, even later within the Democratic Clinton administration, looked more to Wall Street than to Pennsylvania Avenue. The Texas oilmen who now occupy the nation’s two highest offices embodied that anti-government, entrepreneurial ethos.” Still, no one got elected saying that the American people in the aggregate are a bunch of selfish jerks, if only because it isn’t true (somerihgt-wingers notwithstanding).
Furthermore, just as many liberal Dems of the 1970s refused to fully tackle the issue of inflation (although a Democratic Congress did confirm Paul Volcker as Fed Chariman), today’s conservatives are refusing to acknowledge the problems of rising income inequality, stagnant wages, corrupt oil companies, and the need for government involvement and federal aid (e.g. Hurricane Katrina).
In 1976 Reagan ran for the GOP nomination for president as a right-wing conservative in an attempt to dethrone the moderate Gerald Ford. At the time it was an election too early, as Reagan narrowly lost to Ford.
As Shulman notes, “Bush faces potential mutiny from his own base in Congress and the electorate.” Was Kerry’s pro-community 2004 campaign a campaign too early? We report you decide.